How to Strum a Ukulele
People who can play instruments with ease, especially stringed instruments like the ukulele, seem to have a superpower. Anyone who can play an instrument is instantly perceived as a cool person.
If you want to know how to handle a ukulele with ease and strum it like a pro, this article is the beginning of your journey. We have condensed for you in easily digestible words the basics of uke strumming.
Use Your Dominant Hand
What’s your dominant arm?
If right-handed, use your right to strum your ukulele. If left-handed, use your left.
The other hand will be the fretting hand
The first thing you should remember is to stay loose. Keep your hand/fist loose. Do not tighten up, because that will make your playing sound robotic and you are going to tire out your hand quickly.
The basic strumming hand position is a loose fist. Strum the strings using the index finger of your dominant hand – with the fingernail side down.
You can use your thumb to steady your strumming finger, give it some extra strumming support.
When strumming, ensure you use your wrist and not the whole hand. That way you can keep going for long stretches without tiring. Strumming with your hand is when you move your entire arm rapidly up and down instead of just your wrist.
How to Strum Up and Down
The up and down strumming is the basic strumming movement.
How to strum down: by hitting the strings with your nail.
How to strum up: with the fleshy tip of your finger.
Find the Optimum Strumming Spot
It’s important to play around with the ukulele a bit to figure out the best strumming spot for your particular model.
For instance, if you strum too close to the bridge or too high on the ukulele’s neck, it will produce a dim sound.
Typically, the best spot is in the vicinity of where the neck and the body meet.
Note that the perfect spot may differ for different models and sizes. For instance, the best spot on soprano and concert ukuleles is at the aforementioned point: where the neck meets the body. However, the best spot for a tenor uke is closer to the bridge.
Switch It Up
For each song that you play, you use a unique strumming pattern and rhythm, and that’s what creates a different sound for each song. You can’t use the same strumming pattern for every song as that might sometimes result in a clash between the song itself and the ukulele sound.
Besides, even if it matches well with the song, strumming the same way all the time is a sure way to bore yourself and kill your passion for playing the uke.
Therefore, you must go beyond the basic up and down strumming. Switch it up to make it more interesting. As cliché as this might sound: follow the music. As a dancer trusts the music to show him/her the way, trust the music, and follow it, its emotion, and it will push you through.
For instance, you can switch up your pattern and create new ones by playing the same up and down way, only this time you hold back from hitting the strums on certain strums. And voila, just like that, you have created a new sound.
Another way to switch it up and add flavor and style to your strumming is to chunk strum, a technique that is used in many ukulele songs. It is also called chucking, chunking, or palm muting.
Chunk strumming is when you hit the strings with the underside of your hand as you strum down. The point is to mute the strings while you are strumming.
The effect created by this action is a percussive sound that adds a new dimension to the overall sound of your strumming. It’s like clapping your hands, only you are doing it with the strings of your ukulele.
Let’s break down the technique:
Before you start strumming, ensure that the fleshy area of your palm is at rest on the strings, toughing them lightly. With your palm in position, strum with your index finger as you normally do.
What the palm is doing is basically damping the strings. Though you can still hear the chord, the tone is not as pronounced as it normally is. The sound you get is more like a click.
Chunking is a wonderful way to switch up your strumming pattern and make your playing a little more interesting.
For many people, chunking is one of the most difficult techniques they had to master when learning how to play the ukulele. Once you get the hang of it, though, it will become second nature and you will wonder what you found so difficult about it before.
You can also create a percussive sound by dead strumming.
The difference is that with dead strums you are creating the percussive click using your fretting hand – the other hand, that is: the left, if you are right-handed and vice versa.
You do this by laying your fingers across all the strings so as to ensure they don’t ring when you strum them.
Dead strumming is basically using your fretting hand to mute the uke strings while playing as normal.
The clicking percussive sound is useful for creating a sort of beat in certain points of the song you are playing. It is a very effective technique in some songs.
The effectiveness of dead strumming becomes notable, even to your audience, when you instantly move into a chord after a dead strum: it makes for an amazing contrast, a wonderful sound as if the music has suddenly come back to life.
The Fan Stroke/Strum
The fan stroke originates from the playing of the Spanish flamenco guitar, a technique that adds quite a lot of character to the sound of your strumming.
Instead of strumming the uke string downwards using your index finger as is the norm, the fan stroke requires the uses of all your fingers.
To give you an apt visual image, it’s like dragging a comb across the strings – because each of the fingers is catching each of strings in rapid succession.
Combine all the techniques you have learned in this article and you are well on your way to ukulele mastery. Rome wasn’t built in a day, however. It’s one thing to read about this techniques and think, “I can do that” – it’s quite another to actually do it. If you practice relentlessly, you will get good, but only if you do!